MILWAUKEE — There’s a lot of fight in these Tigers.
Down by as many as 21 points on the road Saturday afternoon, the LSU men’s basketball team could have easily packed it in for another day.
However, the Tigers didn’t want to play for another day, they were set on giving Marquette a game.
LSU clawed back and used a 36-14 run to take a one-point lead, 58-57, but Marquette was too tough down the stretch and came away with an 84-80 victory at the Bradley Center.
“We’re a team that never gives up,” said LSU guard Andre Stringer, who scored a season-high 20 points. “We play hard, 40 minutes, whether we’re up or down and that’s what I think is going to help us in the long run. We’re a team that has a lot of heart. We might not be as big as everybody, but we play together and we play as a family and we play smart.”
LSU — which lost its second contest during a three-game road trip — faced a similar situation three weeks ago when it trailed at home by 16 to Seton Hall. But the Tigers rebounded to win by five. In that game, LSU coach Johnny Jones used a press to get his team back in it. Against Marquette, Jones implemented a smothering zone.
“I think the great thing about these guys, they understand that they don’t have any quit in them and they continue to play every possession,” Jones said. “I think they’re resilient and they see great things happening.”
Marquette (8-3) was coming off a tough 49-47 loss to Green Bay on Wednesday. The Golden Eagles, which won their 15th straight game at home, rebounded against LSU by shooting 49 percent from the field (27-for-55) and hit 96 percent of their free throws (24 of 25).
LSU (7-2) took only its second lead of the game at 58-57 with 9:35 remaining and had Marquette reeling. However, the Golden Eagles went on a 9-0 run to open up the game. The Tigers got within two points once and four points on six different occasions the rest of the way.
LSU took an early 3-2 as Stringer drained a 3-pointer, but the Tigers missed their next eight shots. Marquette, in the meantime, went on a 15-0 run to go up 17-3.
“We just can’t start off slow,” LSU guard Charles Carmouche said. “We played great in the second half, but kind of spotted them 21 points in the first half. But to say that we were down 21 points to take the lead in the same game is big. It just shows that we could have played a whole lot better and won this game.”
Marquette pushed its lead to 21-6 before Stringer hit another 3. LSU didn’t tally its first 2-point field goal until 7 minutes, 35 seconds into the game on an Andrew Del Piero putback basket to make it 23-11.
After back-to-back field goals by Johnny Bryant III, LSU was within 11, 26-15. LSU faced its biggest deficit of the season at 21 points, 43-22, at 5:12 of the first half. Anthony Hickey tried to single handed get his team back in the game. He hit three shots during an 8-0 spurt to pull the Tigers to within 43-30 with 2:53 remaining in the first half.
LSU went into halftime down 45-33. The 45 points surrendered was a season high. The Tigers gave up 43 first-half points in an 89-70 loss to Boise State on Dec. 14.
“We fell into a hole early. We didn’t execute on defense as well,” Stringer said. “There guys got open for a couple jumpers and got open on the break and discouraged us a little bit. We regrouped at the half came back and played with a lot of fire, as we always do, and got back into the game.”
The Tigers came out running in the second half and had 10 fastbreak points during a 16-4 run to tie it at 49. Anthony Hickey scored five of his 18 points during the stretch and LSU hit its first 6 of 8 shots of the half.
LSU went up 58-57 — its first lead in 29 minutes and 44 seconds — but Marquette answered with a 17-4 run to go up 74-62.
The Tigers got two free throws from Carmouche with 40.7 seconds remaining to make it 78-76 in favor of Marquette. Golden Eagles forward Davante Gardner, who scored 19 points, hit six three throws in the final minute to ice the game.
“We scored 80 points tonight. That’s enough for us to win a basketball game,” Jones said. “We’ve just got to get stops on the other end.”
Carmouche said the tough road game provides some valuable lessons for he and his teammates and they prepare for the grind of the SEC schedule.
“I think every team learns from a loss, especially one like this one,” Stringer said. “Marquette’s a great team. We played our hearts out, and this will help us down the line because we’re going to play tough teams in a tough environment like this and it’s just our job to respond.”